By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
In the mid-'70s, the din of Merzbow's fluorescent feedback, Scandinavian Black Metal and your mother's Cuisinart had yet to exist as viable forms of musical terrorism; even if they had, chances are people wouldn't have known what to make of them. Times, they have changed. The masses now clamor for noise, and Boyd Rice (a.k.a. NON), an expert in the field, has produced God and Beast (Mute), his most assaultive work in a decade.
In recent years, the raw minimalism of NON has found its niche. "Mainstream bands have incorporated elements of rep-etition and ambient sound into their music, and audiences have become acclimated to them," says Rice. It's taken time for people to catch up to the idea of noise in general, and noise like his in particular. "People just didn't know how to respond. Twenty years ago, if you had told me that someday people would be dancing to my music, I never would've believed it."
Growing up near San Diego, Rice was one of the Southland's only proponents of noise-as-music back in the '70s. "I got into noise when I was a child," he says. "When I was left in the car in a parking lot, I'd honk the horn as long as I could, because I liked the sound . . . When I got older, my favorite music was the Shangri-La's. I tried to figure out what aspect of the Shangri-La's fascinated me, and I realized it was the edge in the girl's voice." Rice used a portable tape recorder to butcher the bubblegum. "I figured if you could strip away the unessential and isolate that edge," he says, "you could create something totally harsh and visceral, which for me would be the ultimate form of music."
Settling on the moniker NON ("It implies everything and nothing"), he relocated to San Francisco, where, in the thick of disco, he created environments for himself with elemental noise loops. Few people knew how to place NON in the scheme of things. "I was compared to Kraftwerk simply because people didn't know what else to compare me to," he says. The Throbbing Gristle comparison, while more suitable, was still inaccurate: "The difference was they were using real instruments to make music that was noisy, whereas I was creating noise that was trying to be music."
In 1976, Mute released NON's first full-length recording, known as "The Black Album," which was followed by the equally pernicious and decompositional Physical Evidence and Blood and Flame LPs. A collection of NON's most venomous tracks is found on Music for Iron Youth: The Best of NON, which could be described as mood music for summoning demons - pure evil pressed into vinyl. Rice moved away from unadulterated noise in the late '80s.
"When I first started, there was nothing out there like NON," he says. "Then it became a trend, and I got away from it - it's hard to make minimalism more minimal." Music, Martinis and Misanthropy (1989) found him waxing malevolently on mass destruction and the little things that make life difficult, while In the Shadow of the Sword (1992) and Might! (1995) were based on Social Darwinist themes and Ragnar Redbeard's controversial book Might Is Right.
With NON it's not a question of listen-ing to the music, but of being assaulted by it. Instead of ambient purification, these soundscapes offer complete environmental (and occasionally mental) obliteration. It's fitting that Rice in person is unnervingly tall and black-clad, imposing even before he opens his mouth. Once he does, though, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better-mannered, more humorous individual. Those familiar with Rice's recorded output as NON, or with his admittedly vitriolic spoken-word albums, accept his penchant for fascist imagery and his fascination with scabrous philosophies, extreme politics and the darkest recesses of human nature.
"I don't feel any sense of moral obligation to most people," says Rice, "which allows me to be honest and frank and say things that a lot of people think, whether they want to admit it or not. Certain individuals get angry if you state a fundamental truth like 'Some people are weak and some people are strong.'" It was a solitary protester that kept Rice from performing on a recent stop in L.A. supporting Australian goth pagans Death in June. "I think at this point I'd be a lot further along in my career," he says, "if people weren't reacting to negative ideas of what they imagine I am, instead of just reacting to the music I produce."
For Rice it's an obligation to be skeptical about the realities we're force-fed daily, and he makes no excuses for himself or his work. "When a 60-year-old man says something bitter and misanthropic, he's a lovable old curmudgeon," he says. "When someone my age expresses the same sentiment, he's a Nazi.
"I'm not a Nazi, and certainly not a communist, but if I had to choose between totalitarianism and democracy, I'd opt for the former. Why? Simple: the lesser of two evils. Sure, the abject poverty synonymous with communism can be soul-destroying, but is rampant consumerism and overabundance any less so? People demand oppression, whether in the form of a fascist regime or the demagoguery of the oppressed that is democracy. I doubt that people will ever change, and until they do, the State and its inherent oppression will remain the same."